First Sea Lord – Royal Navy ‘in a very bad way’

Something of a media storm has kicked up today, over comments made by the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope.

In a rare example of an Admiral standing up for his services, Stanhope said:

‘How long can we go on as we are in Libya? If we do it longer than six months we will have to reprioritise forces. That is being addressed now. Certainly in terms of Nato’s current time limit that has been extended to 90 days, we are comfortable with that. Beyond that, we might have to request the government to make some challenging decisions about priorities.’

Admiral Sir Jock Slater was First Sea Lord during the earlier 1998 Strategic Defence Review:

The position the First Sea Lord and the chief of staffs is very difficult indeed because if you want to retain the confidence of ministers you should not speak directly to the press about your concerns. But the fact remains that the navy is in a very bad way. The loss of Ark Royal and the Harriers was the worst decision by a government for many, many years. I think what Mark Stanhope has done is to state the obvious. You can’t carry on doing more with less.’

Naval Historian and analst Professor Andrew Lambert, of Kings College London, had this to say:

I think what the First Sea Lord has said in a very quiet and polite way is what everyone else has been saying in a very loud and aggressive way for a considerable period of time. The government has committed themselves to doing something when we have not got the equipment to do the job. The problem is the government has not got the political courage to admit they have made a mistake and as a result we are spending vast amounts of money doing things inefficiently and ineffectively. We’re getting laughed at by the French for not having a carrier off Libya. It’s hard enough when they beat us at rugby or football but when they beat us at carrier aviation it is unacceptable.’

‘It’s not the business of government to make perfect decisions all the time. It’s their business to run the country and respond to events. They have held their hands up when they got things wrong with the NHS reforms and sentencing but they seem unable to do the same with defence. It’s gone beyond a joke really. I know governments will stick to their own rhetoric but this is costing us too much and may even end up costing lives and that’s why the First Sea Lord was right to speak out because the situation is unacceptable.’

The Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is either clearly living in la la land, or is secret ex-RAF officer:

‘Operations in Libya are showing how capable we are post-SDSR as a leading military power with the fourth largest defence budget in the world. We continue to have the resources necessary to carry out the operations we are undertaking and have spare capacity with the Royal Navy Cougar Taskforce which is currently on exercise in the Gulf. The SDSR is not being reopened. The Harrier has served with great distinction over a long period and in a number of theatres, but we are not bringing them back into service. Our planning assumptions remain valid and we have been able to effectively conduct missions over Libya. We are now progressing with the disposal of the Harrier force.’

planning assumptions valid? They were invalid before the ink even dried Foxy. Leading military power? Our projection doesnt back that up. And as for rourth largest defence budget? Our inventory does not back up that one either.

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said:

‘This is yet another convincing argument in favour of reopening the defence review, which has not survived its first contact with world events. ‘The country will be dismayed to hear that the operation in Libya could have been conducted more cheaply and more effectively had the Government taken a different approach. ‘I hope the straight talking by the First Sea Lord will be met with some straight answers from Ministers. In particular, it is vital that Ministers tell us now how they intend to equip the mission in Libya should it go beyond the six month mark.’

Looking beyond all of the party political and and inter-service dialogue, even the most ardent Tory party card holding RAF airman would claim that the SDSR isn’t looking, in retrospect, like a pile of horse shit. Even Cameron and Fox know it, but of course politics being politics they can’t say so. Ironically, I suspect that most people would respect them more if they admitted that they had got it wrong.

There are bigger contexts to the the rapid and serious decline in the Royal Navy. Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward, the Task Group Commander in the Falklands War, wrote in the Daily Mail the other day that Defence cuts would leave Britain unable to recapture the Falklands if they were taken again by Argentina.

Heres a summary of Woodward’s arguments:

  • America, whose support in 1982 was crucial, appear to support Argentina’s claim to the Islands. Even to the point of referring to them as ‘The Malvinas’ in a joint declaration with Argentina.
  • Why isn’t Cameron getting straight on the plane to Washington to demand an explanation from Obama? 253 British lives were lost defending the islands, and the islanders right to determine their own sovereignty.
  • The Mount Pleasant airbase in the Falklands is not as defendable as thought, and in any case the Argentinians would not attempt a landing without taking out the airbase first.
  • The staging post on Ascenscion Island is leased to America, whose permission we would require to use it. Without it, any sustained operations in the South Atlantic would be impossible.
  • Mount Pleasant can only offer up 3 or 4 Typhoons. The RAF is struggling to get enough Typhoons airworthy for Libya, let alone a war 8,000 miles away. With no aircover and without Mount Pleasant to rapidly reinforce the islands, we could kiss them goodbye.
  • With no carrier-borne air cover, retaking the islands would be impossible. The French are unlikely to lend us Charles de Gaulle.
  • Fundamentally, the islanders are British, and want to be British. The Argentines want them for spurious, vain domestic political reasons. The fundamental values of the UN enshrine the right to self-determination.
  • If David Cameron decides, in a crisis, that the Falklands are not worth defending, who will lose the next General Election.
  • With the new carriers and joint strike fighters not due for some years, we have to muddle through this situation for another 10 years at least.

‘As things currently stand, we’d have serious trouble defending anything much further than  the other side of the English Channel.’

Sandy Woodward was, in many ways, like Montgomery. A war-winning senior officer who rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way in doing so. And I, personally, find it very hard to argue with any of his arguments outlined here.



Filed under defence, Falklands War, Navy, News, Uncategorized

22 responses to “First Sea Lord – Royal Navy ‘in a very bad way’

  1. MHM

    4th largest budget may, or may not be true. But as % of GDP we rank about 63 in the world for defence spend.

    And that speaks volumes.


  2. John Erickson

    So, James…. let me see if I’m getting your statements correct. You ARE against the government and its’ SDSR, right? You’re kinda vague…. 😉
    I was SO hoping you had heard (or read) Stanhope’s statement. I read parts of it, as presented by an Email defence paper I get, “Morning Defense”. I figured it would send up some fireworks – glad to see it’s having the impact it should.
    As to the Falklands, I think it’s an attitude (failing?) of our current Administration. Obama is so wound up about making new friends, he’s forgetting about long-term relationships. And our military is so bogged down on the multiple horns of the A-stan/Iraq/Libya/Yemen/budget dilemma, they barely have time to acknowledge any other theatre, be it the latest doings of silly Chavez or our greatest source of loans rebuilding a Russian aircraft carrier. And with a new SecDef on the way in, plus our 2012 elections pending, things will be up in the air for a while.
    I’m beginning to wonder about going to work for a Mexican drug cartel. At least you know their defence budgets and military planning will be both common sense and consistent! 😀

    • James Daly

      Stanhope has been quoted elsewhere as saying that if Libya carries on much longer we won’t be able to patrol territorial waters. Along with Woodward’s assertion that we can’t effectively project any further than the English Channel, its a pretty impressive emasculation of the Royal Navy by this Government in the past 12 months.

      Regarding Obama, I think its a very dangerous game he’s playing internationally. It’s all very well trying to curry favour with second world countries, but the problem is it gives them false confidence to go out and do whatever they like. Anyone with half a brain cell knows that the Malvinas factor is all about Argentinian domestic politics, which quite frankly is a circus.

      It’s all very well talking about the special relationship, but you can’t then go and backtrack whenever it suits. The US-UK relationship should be the alamo of the western hemisphere, from which we simply don’t compromise.

      • John Erickson

        It’s not so much back-tracking as ignoring. It seems this administration has a rather single-thread attention span. When New Zealand had it’s earthquake, everything was being organised to deliver support, completely forgetting about the existing problems in Haiti. Then the Sendai quake hit, and NZ was completely forgotten. By the same token, Iraq was first and foremost, until we needed the surge. Then Iraq was forgotten while we watched A-stan, only to lose focus for the various countries and their “Arab spring”. Tunisia was forgotten for Egypt, who was forgotten for Libya. Obama is technically in violation of the War Powers Act, yet the Administration is looking towards Yemen, and is starting to set up for Syria. The 24-hour news cycle and Americans’ short attention span doesn’t help, either. I just wish we had somebody with good military credentials in the running for President. Right now, the Republicans are pretty much committing suicide via stupidity, Obama still doesn’t have the experience needed, and the Democrats won’t run anyone else. Maybe whoever they get to replace Hilary as SecState might be able to talk some sense into the yahoos in DC, before we have wars in Yemen, Syria, and Libya, with festering sores in A-stan, Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, and Lord knows where else!

        • James Daly

          I can quite accept that no politician is ever going to know every nut and bolt of all of the state’s functions – I know nothing about policing, or heart operations, or highway management. But if I found myself in charge of the defence of the realm and I knew that I knew nothing about it, I would trust and respect the experience and advice of my subordinates who do know what they’re talking about. OK, at times you might have to disagree with them, but as long as it’s based on something credible. You might also have to referee between them, but again, do it sensibly.

          I think the problem we have is a generation of new politicians who cannot recognise their own limitations, particularly when it comes to history and defence. Not only that, they seem unwilling to learn. The very concept of people like Cameron, Clegg and Osborne lecturing generals who have served 30+ years is ludicrous.

          And please, no more Defence Review authored by murky security advisors or nondescript Sir Humphrey types.

  3. I find it quite galling that a **** like Cameron thinks himself qualified to contradict an Admiral. You are quite right when you discuss our current politicians – not only have they never experienced anything except the fantasy world of party politics, they are unwillin or unable to accept this.

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  5. x

    If I click on your link WEBF will I be greatly annoyed by PPRuNers?

  6. I hope not. You could always register and annoy them – some will agree with you of course.

    • x

      With one exception they seem like a badly run ATC squadron under the spell of a cargo cult………..

      • James Daly

        A lot of them strike me as Biggles wannabes.

        Is it like ARRSE, where many of them are simply walter mitty types?

      • John Erickson

        James- This is a really difficult post to write, ’cause I’m sniggering like a 6-year old. What does ARRSE stand for? (Arse…snicker!)

  7. James Daly

    John – ARRSE is the ARmy Rumour SErvice – a goosip website focussed on the British Army. It’s also go a pretty hilarious wiki on military subjects, which is suitably irreverent. My favourite section is the one on walts – ie, those who pretend to have illustrious military backgrounds.

  8. Quite a few Americans on ARRSE too.

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  16. Tony Blair

    Ascension Island isn’t leased to America it is controlled by the RAF, nor was meagre US support during the Falklands campaign at all vital to the outcome.

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